Am I shamelessly biased to make such a proclamation? Yes. Am I justified? Yes.
I state this with pride and conviction. Although I am American, Gent (Ghent) is still my city. I grew up right in its historical center; it still has my soul. I know its every nook and cranny, I still speak its peculiar dialect. So again, here’s why every Architect should visit Gent.
Here’s a little video preview..
Gent is the cultural and historical center of Flanders. Few European cities can claim fourteen centuries of rich, standing architectural history, Gent can. We’re not talking about wood chip remnants of early settlements… Gent is rich in abbeys, cathedrals, castles, guildhalls, utility and industrial buildings, that go back as far as the 7th century and represent every possible construction technique and architectural period, from Roman to Gothic, from Renaissance to Baroque and Rococo, Art Nouveau to Eclectism and Classical Revival, every Modernist period, to some of the most exciting new contemporary designs, all within walking distance of each other. They are an expression of a country at the intersection of major European empires and all the major, sometimes turbulent, socio-political and cultural periods. For a brief history of the city click here. For a list of the many structures worthwhile seeing click here.
If you design embassies and high security facilities…
The Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts) should be your first stop. Construction of the medieval bastion was started in the 10th Century by Arnulf I, Count of Flanders. Most of the current motte-and-bailey design with open moat to the river Leie completed in the early 13th Century. It still stands in its full glory, a massive fortress. Not for the faint-hearted, the Gravensteen also features a Museum of Judicial Objects –a euphemism for torture museum-. It has a huge collection of centuries-old handcuffs, shackles, iron collars, legholds, thumb screws, neck restraints, torture wheels and racks, as well as guillotines. For today’s architects we would like to add Autodesk Revit to the collection of contemporary torture devices. This is still under judicial review. I digress…
If you’re into structural and acoustical engineering
The majestic Saint Bavo Cathedral (Sint Baafskathedraal) is a 300ft-tall Gothic cathedral, which together with the Belfry -classified as world heritage by UNESCO- and Saint Nicholas’ Church adorn the city as The Three Towers. A visit leaves you awestruck as to how these massive structures with intricate detailed attention to light and sound could be designed with the engineering tools available at the time. The exceptional acoustics also make it the ideal location for classical concerts. While inside, go and see the world-famous Ghent Altarpiece (Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck around 1432 and the unique rococo pulpit.
Nestled between the three towers you’ll find the City Pavilion designed by the architects Robbrecht & Daem, a striking modern structure with a roof of glass, wood and concrete that is both loved and hated, but still remarkable. Also worth seeing are the Royal Dutch Theatre (NTGent) and the 16th Century City Hall building, a mixture of late gothic and renaissance styles.
Desperate for another gothic church? Just cross the Saint Michael’s bridge. As you walk across examine the stunning eclectic style former post office building with its quirky clock tower, and of course the world renowned Graslei and Korenlei with their many medieval guild houses and the renovated Old Fish Market. The Korenstapelhuis dates back to the 12th Century and features the oldest known crow-stepped gable. In one row you can see nine centuries of ‘harmonious’ architectural evolution. Pay careful attention and you’ll also see both the smallest (Tolhuisje) and narrowest houses in Gent. Across the bridge, the Saint Michael’s Church also features a rich Neo-Gothic and Baroque interior and numerous paintings and sculptures by famous masters, including ‘Christ on the Cross’ by Anthony Van Dyck.
Ready for lunch? Stop by the Pakhuis, a turn of the century steel warehouse structure that was transformed into a stylish restaurant.
Off to the Technicum of the Gent University, a mostly steel structure designed in 1934 by engineer and prof. Gustave Magnel, famous for his research in reinforced and prestressed concrete, and home to the Magnel Laboratory for Concrete Research, to this day still part of the Ghent University Department of Structural Engineering.
Ready for a contemporary structural masterpiece? Across the water you’ll find the new De Krook, a monumental building designed by the Ghent architecture firm Coussée & Goris Architecten and Spanish firm Aranda Pigem Vilalta Arquitectes. It is an inverted glass cage, with steel beams placed horizontally on the outside that mimics the rhythm of its surroundings. Side note. The De Krook project was managed entirely in Bricsys 24/7.
Not for its architecture but worth mentioning to the audiophiles, the Sound Recording Centre Steurbaut on the outskirts of the city is widely known in the world of classical music. Its recording studio has amazing space and acoustics and is therefore the first choice of ensembles from the United States and Japan, as well as record labels such as Deutsche Grammophon, Philips and Decca.
Also worth noting is Gent’s native son Victor Horta, who pioneered the use of iron and steel in the Art Nouveau style for a variety of beautiful buildings such as Hotel Tassel, the Hotel Solvay, and the Horta Museum. While Gent features many residential Art Nouveau structures worth seeing, only three less known designs carry his name.
This is just a small sampling of the many architectural marvels that Gent has to offer. To download a free PDF guide of everything there is to see in Gent click here.
Gent for the US history buff
Americans are always surprised to find out the important role this far away city has played in the shaping and history of the United Stated of America. It is claimed that the United States owes a debt of its independence to this Flemish city. According to Professor Stephen Lucas of the University of Wisconsin at Madison the primary source of the words, phrases and ideas embodied in the U.S. Declaration of Independence were derived overwhelmingly from “De Plakkaat van Verlatingh”, a declaration of independence issued 200 years earlier by an assembly of the 17 provinces and cities -especially Gent, at the time one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe- now roughly the equivalent to modern day Benelux, rejecting the rule of Philip II, the Spanish son of Gent born Emperor Charles V. One of its key authors was Jacques Tayaert, a pensionary of the city of Gent.
Later on, the Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Both sides signed it on December 24, 1814 in Gent. Part of the building where the signing took place is still standing behind the “Esprit” store in the Veldstraat shopping street.
Gent is also home to BricsCAD BIM
It should come as no surprise that rich in industrial and architectural history, Gent is also the center of great design research and innovation. Its Sint-Lucas School of Architecture is known as the largest school for Architecture in Belgium with most of the leading Belgian interior designers, interior architects, architects, urbanists, artists and researchers currently teaching there. For several years, Bricsys has tapped its top creative talent to help shape the future of architectural design. The result has been BricsCAD BIM, Bricsys 24/7, and its many innovations in direct 3D modeling, design interfaces (e.g. QUAD), Building Information Management (BIM), and the use of artificial intelligence in architectural design. Bricsys is housed in the UCO-tower, itself a timeless marvel of modernist industrial architecture, designed in 1959 by T. Kelter and H. Feltes.
Ready for a visit? Gent will welcome you with open arms.
For more information on monuments and architecture to see in Gent click here.